Who is being tolled?

17 07 2012

Infrastructure Australia has suggested that existing roads be tolled to pay for new roads. Is this really where we are at as a society here in Australia? Tolling roads is a socially divisive measure that makes it more expensive or time consuming for those at the far flung fringes of our cities to get to work or connect with their social support networks.

Keeping a AAA credit rating seems more important than investing in needed public transport infrastructure. This is short sighted and flawed thinking. We have governments to coordinate functions of society that are better managed communally with the benefit of the whole of society in mind. This means collecting taxes to pay for things we all get a benefit from. By keeping taxes low for all and raising revenue in other ways seems a bit underhanded to me. Looking purely at the upfront economic cost-benefit does not mean good policy. Social cost and environmental cost also need to be considered, even before economics, and the negative effects policies can have in other areas of society.

Socially disadvantaged people living on the fringe are already car dependent as the public transport system is shoddy at best in the burbs and adding to the time and cost of travel will help promote a two tier city. Housing mobility is becoming more and more of a challenge for people who cannot now afford to live near to employment or family. Once you are in an outer suburb you are stuck there even if you would like to move.

What’s this got to do with adaption to climate change? By reducing a societies capacity for resilience in an economic sense we are harming their capacity to adapt to a changing climate. This is called maladaption, by investing in public transport now instead of roads we are in a much better position to adapt to a global increase in the cost of energy.

Tolling some existing roads and using the revenue to improve the public transport infrastructure in Melbourne is not great but is a much better option than tolling existing roads to create more roads which is pretty high up on the scale of maladaption to climate change…

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